News that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has dropped its warning about the dangers of cholesterol brought to mind a routine by the comedian Lewis Black:
The people who told us about sun block were the same people who told us, when I was a kid, that eggs were good. So I ate a lot of eggs. Ten years later they said they were bad. I went, "Well, I just ate the eggs!" So I stopped eating eggs, and ten years later they said they were good again! Well, then I ate twice as many, and then they said they were bad. Well, now I'm really f—d! Then they said they’re good, they’re bad, they’re good, the whites are good, th-the yellows—make up your mind! It’s breakfast—I’ve gotta eat!
Will they ever make up their minds? Is the decision to deemphasize the danger of cholesterol (after almost 40 years of emphasizing its hazards) definitive? Or, as Black fears, will we one day be told again that eggs are killing us? Indeed, before the new change in policy, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee had recommended a daily intake of 300 milligrams of cholesterol, which two fried eggs (368 mg) exceeds. And while cholesterol can be found in any number of places, the egg was the easiest target.
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"Eggs are bad for you! Eggs!" an incredulous Michael Ruhlman writes in The Reach of a Chef. "The most natural food on earth, a symbol of life and fertility, a compact package of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates whose versatility in the kitchen, pleasure at the table, and economy at the store is unmatched by any other food. We learned to hate the egg! Do you need any further proof that something is seriously wrong with this country that teaches people to avoid eggs?"
Avoid them we did. Egg consumption, which peaked in 1945, has now reached an all-time low. In its place, Americans have loaded up on carbohydrates. In The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, Nina Teicholz explains that "a breakfast without eggs and bacon … is usually one of cereal or oatmeal; low-fat yogurt … is higher in carbohydrates than the whole-fat version, because removing fat from foods nearly always requires adding carbohydrate-based ‘fat-replacers’ to make up for lost texture." As Teicholz further elaborates, "when the low-fat, low-cholesterol diet was first officially recommended to the public by the American Heart Association … in 1961, roughly one in seven adult Americans was obese. Forty years later, that number was one in three."
As it turns out, cholesterol’s connection to the human body is complicated. For example, writes Peter Whoriskey in the Washington Post, "the body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than their diet provides, … the body regulates how much is in the blood and … there is both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol." In addition, "the way people process cholesterol differs. Scientists say some people—about 25 percent—appear to be more vulnerable to cholesterol-rich diets."
This is not to say, however, that 75 percent of us should suddenly embrace the Rocky diet or order that "humongous bucket of eggs and meat." Rather, we ought to be practicing moderation. As Whoriskey writes, "The greater danger in this regard, these experts believe, lies not in products such as eggs, shrimp or lobster, which are high in cholesterol, but in too many servings of foods heavy with saturated fats, such as fatty meats, whole milk, and butter."
Too many servings. This applies, it should be said, not just to red meat and butter, but even to foods perceived as being outright nutritious. In a blog post entitled "The Hidden Health Hazards of Lettuce," Ruhlman writes, "If lettuce is the only thing you eat, you will get sick, you’re going to have serious health issues. It can lead to dangerous malnutrition, grave weight loss, and in women, infertility."
"Fat is good for you," says Ruhlman. "Fat is good for your body. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Fat doesn’t make you fat. EATING TOO MUCH MAKES YOU FAT! Eating every morsel of your mile high Cheesecake Factory plate is what makes you fat. Eating a whole bag of Doritos is what makes you fat. Eating when you’re not hungry makes you fat!"
So go home and cook yourself some steak and eggs. And feel good about it.